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Thursday, June 17, 2010 01:39 am

Airlines battle workplace democracy

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Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia

If you ever want to spook a smug, stuffed-shirt corporate CEO — I mean spook him so bad that he jumps clear out of his Guccis and screams louder than Little Richard — sneak up behind him and shout “union!”

They hate that.

Corporate chieftains get the heebie-jeebies at the mere mention of unionization for the exact same reason that millions of workers perk up at the idea: power. In today’s plutocratic, corporate-controlled economy, the most direct and effective way for working folks to assert their interests and restore a measure of fairness to America’s economic system is for them to unite in unions.

Indeed, while the corporate powers and their political apologists constantly insist that the union movement is passé — neither needed nor wanted in our modern, globalized workplace — more than 60 million Americans (over half of the workforce) say they would join a union if they could.

Well ... why can’t they?

Because those at the very top (corporate executives, board members and financiers) personally profit by holding down everyone else, so they don’t want the mass of working stiffs having any real say over such critical matters as offshoring, downsizing, wages, benefits and working conditions.

Unions — which allow employees to amass their strength, coordinate their interests and participate in company decisions that affect them — are a direct democratic threat to the centralized autocracy preferred by the pampered few at the top.

Thus, for the past three decades or so, the autocrats have retained lawyers, lobbyists and lawmakers, deploying them in a determined effort (mostly out of the public eye) to monkey-wrench the rules of unionization in ways that make it hard to impossible for workers to join together.

For example, perhaps you’ve never gotten around to reading the Railway Labor Act (it didn’t make many best-seller lists). But the RLA, which governs unionization elections in both the railroad and airline industries, has a wicked little plot-twist you might enjoy. When a vote is taken among workers in either of these two industries to determine whether they want to form a union, the law requires that all employees who do not vote be automatically (and autocratically) counted as having voted against the union.

Come on, even Agatha Christie wouldn’t have tried something that twisted! Those who did not cast ballots (because they were sick, didn’t care, were intimidated, had a family emergency, whatever) should not be counted at all, as happens with no-shows in every other American election.

Happily, the Obama administration has recently issued a new rule repealing this electoral absurdity. But — Holy Kafka! — assorted airline corporations have gone bonkers, bananas and batstuff, screeching that this small step toward the bright light of logic is a demonic perversion of the Founders’ democratic ideals. The industry has unleashed its political hounds to howl in protest and demand a reversion to the good ol’ autocratic system.

Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia was especially noisy, which is no surprise, since he’s a longtime retainer of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, whose labor force is largely non-union. Delta has profited enormously from RLA’s quaint, anti-democratic method of skewing unionization votes (it has even included at least one dead employee as a non-voting “no” vote), so it is going all-out to stop the rule change.

Thus, Isakson, whose No. 1 campaign funder is Delta, quickly rose up on his hind legs last month to declare that deleting non-voters from the “no” column was an “assault on employee rights.”

No one ever said Johnny was bright, but — wow! — that’s dim. How about we apply Isakson’s thinking to ... well, to him! In his last election, there were 8.6 million eligible Georgia voters, but only 1.8 million cast a ballot for him. Golly, Johnny, that means 79 percent of Georgians either voted against you or — gasp! — did not vote at all. In other words, those non-voters you love would’ve unceremoniously drummed you right out of the Senate.

Hmmm, the more I think about it, the more I like the no-vote inclusion — as long as it applies to all of the hypocrites like Isakson. But I doubt he’d vote for that.  

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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